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From the early stages of the adoption process to bringing the child back home, this collection of personal stories reveals why parents who have adopted children from China feel—despite the challenges they've endured—truly lucky. In one account, a woman contemplates her daughter’s lost heritage during a visit to a Chinese fertility temple; in another, a mother of Chinese descent reflects on the striking connections between her grandmother and her adopted daughter. One mother explores loss and grief among those who...
From the early stages of the adoption process to bringing the child back home, this collection of personal stories reveals why parents who have adopted children from China feel—despite the challenges they've endured—truly lucky. In one account, a woman contemplates her daughter’s lost heritage during a visit to a Chinese fertility temple; in another, a mother of Chinese descent reflects on the striking connections between her grandmother and her adopted daughter. One mother explores loss and grief among those who are abandoned, while another parent contemplates her child's inevitable difficulty learning English after hearing only Mandarin. A father creates an imaginary world for his daughters by writing stories about a girl detective solving crimes in Shanghai, and a single professional woman discusses how her daughter filled a void in her life. The memoirs are organized by the experience: starting with infertility then realizing a unique destiny—turning bleak beginnings into happy endings.
"These compelling, poignant, lovely vignettes will resonate with anyone who has ever adopted. . . . A beautiful collection that belongs in the home of adoptive families everywhere." —Jane A. Brown, MSW, creator, Adoption Playshops!
"Lucky us who are given the chance to glimpse this brave new world of families embraced by so much hope and goodwill." —Wayson Choy, author, The Jade Peony and All That Matters
"Despite this collection's upbeat tone, it doesn’t sugarcoat adoption—contributors wonder about birthparents, worry about prejudice, and struggle to parent children of a different culture." —Adoptive Families Magazine
As Traditional as a ChildTess Kalinowski
OLIVIA IS WALKING INTO the dining room. She hangs on tightly to my dad's fingers. I know from experience his back must feel like it's breaking as he repeatedly indulges her desire to move.
My baby is grinning from ear to ear, her little head bobbing up and down, spontaneous giggles issuing from the pure pleasure of her own cleverness. Less than two months ago when I picked her up in China, she couldn't sit up for more than a few seconds without flopping onto her face.
Now on a perfectly ordinary Sunday for no reason other than that she is beautiful and healthy, intense joy is nudging tears to my eyes.
"I did that. I went and got us that," I say to my mother. Her arms are already outstretched to the grinning child stepping through the doorway.
Not being married seldom bothered me. Not having children was, for a long time, tearing me apart. To say my biological clock was ticking wouldn't be correct. I felt no physical imperative to give birth and my notions of children don't include the creation of a replica of myself or a partner.
I don't know whether other people genuinely have those feelings. I do know that the sound of time marching forward started to resonate when I was about thirty-three. By thirty-five, it was deafening.
It took me a long time to get past the embarrassment of wanting anything as traditional as a child.
I had a career that had exceeded my expectations. I had a house; smart, funny friends; and a devoted family. I understood how enviable my life was and I think that's why it became increasingly important to share it—not just the stuff, but the people and the laughter that just got better as I aged.
I'd spent a lifetime making alternative choices. Becoming a mother was practically the only thing I'd always been absolutely sure I wanted.
I had always enjoyed a wonderful relationship with my own mother. I wanted to continue that journey with another generation.
It takes me a moment to comprehend it's my daughter's Chinese name being called in the Hefei Holiday Inn meeting room. It's 9 a.m. Monday. My sister and I are among ten adoptive Canadian families who flew from Vancouver to Beijing on Saturday and then flew two hours southeast to Hefei on Sunday.
Finally we are gathered in the room where babies from the nearby city of Chuzou are already waiting with their caregivers.
The other members of the group I've been assigned by the Ottawa-based Children's Bridge agency, have, by process of elimination, figured out that the floppy baby with the Elvis sideburns is mine. It is February 28. The pictures I received at Christmas were taken in October. I have trouble seeing the resemblance. Nevertheless, I'm moved to tears at the sight of my daughter.
A young woman brings Fu Yuan Qin, who I'll call Olivia, toward me. I squeak a first hello but don't immediately take her in my arms. I've gone to the adoption seminars and know enough to introduce my voice and touch slowly.
Once Olivia is in my arms the nanny retreats across the room. Later I will persuade her to hold Olivia for a photograph.
Olivia has a cold. Her cheeks are flaming from teething and the odor of urine-soaked wool is rising from her damp little body. The humid meeting room is easily twenty-three degrees Celsius. In the Chinese custom, Olivia is wearing several layers of clothing.
My sister Katherine holds the miserable infant for three hours while I complete the adoption paperwork. As instructed by our guide and interpreter, Ding, I repeatedly write my promise to always care for the child and never abandon her.
Ding will later translate so the adoptive parents can ask the orphanage director about our babies' lives to that point. He stresses we are not to ask any questions about the girls' birth parents or where the child was abandoned.
I can see from across the room that Olivia is crying and, despite disapproving looks from the Chinese, Katherine has stripped the baby down to a fresh diaper and top. Without the pants, we can see Olivia won't straighten one leg. It is tucked tightly next to her little body. I'm worried enough to mention this to another adoptive parent, a pediatric nurse. He promises to stop by later and have a look.
Before we are released from the room, the adoptive parents are interviewed by a notary. Ding translates her questions.
Am I sure I want to take this baby girl back to Canada?
I know my baby looks miserable and ill. Of the ten babies being adopted that day, mine is looking among the least healthy. In the split-second before I answer, it occurs to me the notary is offering to have a different baby brought for me.
I smile and insist, "Oh yes, this is the baby girl I want to take home." Adopting a child is invasive and exhausting. There's a rigid bureaucratic process but the experience is unique to each family.
It took me eighteen months of research, rigorous paperwork, and rushing for appointments before I finally found myself flying to China.
Anyone with the right biology can make a child, but adoption in Ontario requires a Ministry of Community and Social Services home-study approval. To get it, you undergo intense scrutiny. You pay a social worker to interview you, to review your home, your job, your finances, and your relationships. You must get friends, family, and colleagues to write reference letters.
There are virtually no healthy infants available for public adoption in Ontario. Today, fewer women put their babies up for adoption than before and those who do frequently opt for private adoption so they can select the baby's parents. Public adoptions are limited mostly to special needs and older children but it's a hard truth that most people want healthy infants.
Eastern Europe and China are the most established avenues for Canadians seeking overseas adoptions.
Because China's single-child policy allows only one child per family, that country has thousands of unwanted babies, almost all girls. Kept in state-run orphanages, the girls who aren't adopted will be schooled and supported until they are eighteen. The orphanages also house some boys and special-needs children.
Although I didn't visit Olivia's orphanage in Chuzhou, our group was permitted to tour a facility in Hefei where some of the other children had been kept. Those babies were healthier and better developed than the Chuzhou babies in our group. The director of the Hefei orphanage told us there are about 400 children in its care. About 200 of those live in foster homes.
Most children adopted from China are developmentally delayed as a result of their extended institutionalization. In Hefei there were only two or three staff looking after dozens of infants. There were toys in the children's playroom but they were mostly on shelves in boxes.
Most of our group wept at the sight of so many children milling about like ducks in a pen. One little boy, about two, with no arms below the elbow, was riding a plastic toy while another child tried to push him. Another little girl ran wildly among the Canadians pulling on us and smiling in a desperate bid for attention.
The director told us that only about thirty-five percent of the Hefei children would be adopted—only fifteen percent internationally.
Typically, the adopted children catch up within a few months of arriving in their new homes where they receive stimulation and love. When I got Olivia, she was eleven months old and couldn't sit up. It was less than a month before she was sitting up straight, and a few weeks later she was trying to walk.
A Chinese adoption typically costs between $15,000 and $20,000 Canadian, including a two-week trip for two to China. Children's Bridge arranges a week in the child's home province in which a birth certificate and certificate of abandonment are notarized and the child's Chinese passport is prepared. The second week is spent in Beijing, where the child undergoes a medical exam necessary for an entry visa into Canada, the only Western country that requires this medical.
I talked to a woman who adopted from Russia. She had taken a second mortgage on her home. Many families max out credit cards and lines of credit. The National Bank of Canada offers a special adoption loan program.
Early in my research one woman put it this way: Adoption is the price of a car. It may be a compact model or it may be a luxury sedan, but it's just a car.
It's common for adopting couples to have endured the trauma of fertility treatment. The first adoption seminar I attended at the Adoption Council of Ontario in Toronto included half a dozen couples and myself. The common element in that room was grief. Young women recounted multiple miscarriages and unsuccessful hormone treatments. Their partners sat beside them, stoic and helpless.
When adoption was still a possibility for single people, I was among the growing number of single women choosing to adopt. It was rare and difficult for an unmarried man to adopt, but, in the course of my research, I heard of one man who obtained a child from Russia.
When I adopted Olivia, China had no trouble with single women adopting. There were three single mothers in our group of ten families. I often consider that a generation or two back, motherhood wasn't an option for most unmarried women.
Back in our hotel room, we give Olivia a sponge bath and a bottle.
The pediatric nurse stops in and finds one of her legs a little weaker than the other but doesn't think there's anything to worry about. He checks her with a stethoscope and assures us the cold hasn't moved into her chest.
About midnight Olivia's crying wakes us. But it's a different baby who gets out of the crib. After a bottle and clean diaper she is more than content but not tired. It's the middle of the night. I'm as far from home as I ever expect to be and this small stranger has decided she'd like to play. Between the hours of midnight and 2 a.m., I catch my first glimpse of the daughter I'll be carrying back to Canada. She chuckles and coos, wants to be thrown in the air and caught, tickled and bounced on the bed. I'm exhausted but relieved beyond words.
Sometime after 2 a.m., Olivia goes back to sleep for about three hours. At 5 a.m. she's up again entertaining Katherine and me. We know it's late at home but we call our parents to tell them we've got our baby and she's going to be just fine. A world away, we can feel their urgency to hold their first grandchild.CHAPTER 2
Tumbling DownPatricia Hluchy
TWO WEEKS BEFORE I BECAME a mother, my house fell down. It was a Saturday morning, 3 o'clock, mid-January, the darkest depths of winter, and then the sound of an avalanche—bricks were falling off the front of our house as the roof crumpled and the front wall broke away, leaning out about fifteen degrees. I had a monster head cold and wanted to pretend nothing was happening. However, my husband, Hamish, jumped out of bed and rushed to the front bedroom. He came back telling me to get up, get dressed, and get the hell out, lest the whole structure collapse on us.
This is what had happened. In January 1999, Toronto experienced unprecedented snowfall. By January 13, the amount of snow was already double the average for the month, and it had arrived in a series of nasty blizzards. Mayor Mel Lastman called in the army to help plow and, one imagines, to keep the citizenry from rioting over the outrageously vile weather. We live at the end of a row of twelve houses, and that night the roof of the dwelling six doors north fell in because of its burden of snow. That caused a domino effect down the row. Our house sustained the least damage, but it still took more than four months to fix.
After we'd pushed against three feet of snow outside our door, I rushed back in to get a sedative, prescribed so I could sleep on the plane to China. I figured our insurance wouldn't cover this disaster and that my dream come true, one-year-old Wu Zhi, who was living in an orphanage in Hubei province, was no longer within reach. There was no way I'd sleep without medication. After standing around among firefighters and police, at 4:30 a.m. we trudged four blocks to my sister's house, where I did manage to sleep a little.
Fortunately, our insurance covered the devastation. Hamish and I spent the next two weeks camped out at my sister's. The sympathetic managing editor at Maclean's magazine, where I was entertainment editor, told me I could take paid leave to deal with the calamity and to get ready for China. About a week after the collapse, we spent a few hours outside our wreck of a house in the biting cold as workmen brought out all our possessions, destined for storage. We went through every box, every hastily filled garbage bag, to extract what we'd need during our two-week China sojourn and afterward—our collection of baby bottles and clothes, toys, our own clothing, and other personal items. Inevitably, things went missing, including the tray of the highchair. (We spent the first several weeks with our baby daughter without that essential platform—anyone who's fed a one-year-old knows just how chaotic that would be.)
Difficult as it was, the travel to China and our two weeks there were a relief—an escape from the stress and aggravation of dealing with the insurance adjuster, two contractors (one working on the exterior and one inside) and various workmen. And there was the exquisite joy of meeting our daughter and discovering her to be alert and healthy, not to mention in possession of great charm. Zhi screamed for five hours that first day, in two bouts of equal duration. We knew this was a good sign: clearly, she was attached to the caregivers at the orphanage, which meant she was more likely to bond with us. Even amid the howling and her repeated pointing at the door—"Get me out of here!"—I fell in love with her.
Adoption is a dauntingly abrupt transition from childlessness to parenthood; there's no nine-month gestation to allow you to get used to the idea. And because Zhi was already thirteen months old and overdue for wandering about and exploring her surroundings, we had to hit the ground running.
With the house disaster, it felt as if we'd been violently wrenched out of our old existence, and then had to rebuild our lives, and our home.
I learned when I was nineteen that I could not have children because of a medical condition. I had undergone tests in a Victoria hospital, and the gynecologist came in on the second day to brusquely tell me my equipment was flawed. My dreams, my sense of self, came tumbling down. No babies of my own. I ran to a pay phone to call my mother, who lived an hour's drive away.
It was pretty much the end of my youth. My childhood hadn't been particularly blissful, but until that day my hopes were essentially intact. I would not fully recover from the blow for another twenty-six years, until February 2, 1999, the day Zhi came into my life.
I was one of those girls who'd always thought of herself as a mother-in-training. It was like the call to nunhood that I half expected as a devout and tortured Catholic in my childhood and early teens. That call never arrived, but by the age of nine or ten I knew that in order to be fully me I had to be a mum one day. Coming of age with feminism—I was born in 1952—meant that I also expected to break away from the generations of hard-working but uneducated and domestically anchored mothers who came before me on my father's Slovak side and in my mother's Italian clan. My parents did not expect any more of me—they even tried to dissuade me from going to university despite my strong marks in school. Nevertheless, I expected to have an interesting job one day, and mostly I thought of teaching (some maternal impulse was no doubt part of that), though journalism was a dare-not-hope-for-it dream. Above all else, marriage and motherhood would be the clinchers of my life.
Excerpted from The Lucky Ones by Ann Rauhala, Jen Hale. Copyright © 2008 Ann Rauhala. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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